Hillary Will is turning heads because of her performance, not because she's a female, in a man's environment.
The 5-foot-4, 110-pound Will has roared into seventh place in Top Fuel drag racing with one victory, a runner-up finish, three semifinal wins, four quarterfinal wins and six first-round wins.
"I think the drivers in drag racing are pretty accepting of females," the only woman in Top Fuel said. "It's nothing new. Females have been successful in drag racing for a long time.
"I used to be a financial analyst so I was in the business world. I think females are accepted better as racers than a woman in the business world. Walking into a room full of suits in a board room, I didn't feel like I fit in at all. In a firesuit I do."
Hillary Will left the starting line in her Top Fuel dragster. Will secured his first Top Fuel victory June 1 at Topeka, Kan. NHRA
Will notched her first career national event victory at Topeka, Kan., on June 1, becoming only the seventh female driver in NHRA history to win a Top Fuel title. She beat Doug Herbert, Morgan Lucas, Cory McClenathan and Larry Dixon on her way to the title.
"It was a long time coming for our team," Will said. "This is our third year (in Top Fuel) and it was mostly with the same (crew) as when I started.
"We've been through a lot. It seemed like we've found every way to lose there. Little things were going on all the time, but it all came together at the top. It was a great day."
Will's coming off a runner-up finish at Sonoma, Calif., July 27, the last event before the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, which begin Thursday at Brainerd International Raceway. She beat Dave Grubnic, Cory McClenathan and Antron Brown before losing to Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher in the final.
"It was really exciting because that's my home track," Will said. "All my friends and family were there. Growing up we would go to that race for a family vacation. I would sit and watch every round. I was fascinated by NHRA drag racing Coming into that event in a Top Fuel car is huge.
"Going to the finals was really exciting. When we came back from running, people surrounded our pits. When we fired up our car they would cheer and yell. It was pretty amazing."
She comes to BIR with 843 points, 47 behind sixth-place Brandon Bernstein and 70 ahead of eighth-place Herbert. The top 10 in points advance to the Powerade Championship.
"I wish we were higher," Will said. "We were as high as fourth. We're not that far out of it. Everyone is bunched up pretty close together. I definitely think we're better than a No. 7 team. We're looking forward to moving up."
Like virtually every driver, Will looks forward to racing at BIR. Three years ago she interviewed at BIR for the opportunity to drive a Top Fuel car and was hired.
Height/weight: 5-4, 110 pounds
Hometown: Fortuna, Calif.
Sponsor/car: KB Racing dragster
Crew chief: Jim Oberhofer
Career wins: Top Fuel 1, Top Alchol Dragster 1
Career final rounds: TF 3, TAD 2
Career best ET: 4.502
Career best speed: 334.65 mph
"So Brainerd definitely has a special meaning to me," she said. "That seems so long ago, 2005. I've learned a lot since then. I think I've grown up and become a better racer.
"It would be pretty sweet to win there. I've never won a round up there though so I have to make up for that, come out and win four."
Will not only has learned a lot about racing. On a trip to Afghanistan she learned how dedicated the U.S. military is to its country, allowing her an opportunity to pursue her passion.
"It was really almost life-changing to see Afghanistan," she said. "I was in a war zone for 10 days. To experience that was just unreal. It made me so grateful for everything I have.
"My everyday worries aren't that big of worries. When I get stressed out on race day it seems kind of silly related to people fighting a war right now. That's something to worry about.
"Our soldiers are so committed. They amaze me, the way they keep a positive attitude. Some of them I talked to get fired at every day. They treat it kind of like a video game. That's the way they deal with it."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.c
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